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Lowering Friction

Last Friday morning, I arrived at Heathrow airport outside London after traveling on two flights after more than 13 hours of travel. Although I had slept for about 3 hours on the trans-Atlantic flight, I was tired! The shower and breakfast at the Arrivals Lounge helped me wake up a bit, then, I headed to my hotel.

Or, more accurately, I tried to head to my hotel.

In most cities, hotels near the airport have shuttle bus service. In some cities, like San Francisco, multiple hotels team up and share the same shuttle service. At Heathrow, though, that’s not the case, although it may seem to be. There are two bus lines that serve the hotels: London transit and the Hotel Hoppa by National Express. While the hotel web sites say the London transit buses are free, I was unable to find them in the area for the hotel busses. Rumor has it there’s a bus station somewhere in the airport, but I gave up trying to find it. I just wanted to get to my room.

The Hotel Hoppa, on the other hand, is relatively easy to find, but you have to find the right one for your hotel. That can be a challenge. Signs are limited, and the bus marques don’t show all the hotels. I did eventually find the right one, though, and got on and put down my bags. The driver asked if I had a ticket.

Um… No.

How would I get one? I have no idea. He said he could also take cash. However, he couldn’t take a credit card, or the London Oyster card, or anything else I had. So, off the bus I got after collecting my bags and headed for the cabs.

Since the hotel trip was such a short distance, they would only take cash, too!

Frustration!

So, I schlepped my stuff back into the terminal, found an ATM, got some cash, went back out and got in a cab and went to my hotel. Still frustrated, and now tired, again.

Think about how hard that was for a customer of the hotel! Heathrow caters to many travelers from all around the world who, like me, who come off an international flight and want to find respite at a Heathrow hotel. Why not make it easier?

Think about this in your business: it is easy for your customers to do business with you? How many hurdles do they have to cross before you serve them? Do you give your customers opportunity to be frustrated or do you deliberately work to eliminate challenges before it causes you to lose business?

Take the time to figure out the answer, and then reduce that friction to be as low as possible. How many customers give up before they get to the end?

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How to Reveal Future Features

As the sun set over London recently, I sat by the window in my hotel room overlooking Heathrow airport having a conversation with a friend who is a start-up CEO. She was navigating a tricky situation with competitors and industry thought leaders. As we talked, the topic of all the things the product could do in the future emerged, and we discussed how it didn’t do nearly all of the things she envisioned.

This is a typical challenge for those with vision and a clear understanding of the value their product can bring as its capabilities expand.

However, as a member of a product or services team, do not even consider communicating futures to anyone. When it comes to what the product will do in the future, ask questions, take notes, and communicate gratitude for their input. Be prepared to communicate with customers your recognition that there is so much more you are planning to do without being specific. Be sure to draw clear lines between reality (what’s available today) and futures (what may be available down the road). Honesty, clarity, transparency, and listening all go a long way to developing long-term customer relationships.

Having your conversations be about the customer’s success, prioritizing value you plan to deliver according to their needs, and aligning as much as you can with what they need and want in the priority order they need and want it will lead to success for both you and them.

Shifting focus from who you are and what you do to who the customer is and what they need and want is hard! It’s so fundamental to building a successful business, but it’s also incredibly rare.

Do it in your business and watch what happens!

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It’s Your Own Fault!

The age of the Internet, with always-on ubiquitous connectivity to everyone, has created a friction-free path to exposing the worst of people: attacking others for their own failure. It’s ugly and mean, but ultimately only smears the person doing the attacking.

I saw an example just today posted to a support site for an app I really enjoy. The smear didn’t just complain about the app, but used an expletive and called it the “worst … app ever.” Now, this is obviously an exaggeration. And the expletive just gave it a bigger barb to do greater damage to the indie developer who wrote the app. It worked. The developer was hurt by the attack, although he responded with grace and humility in the best way possible, and that’s really hard to do. I already respected him. I now respect him even more.

That said, what’s behind this is an attitude that may be missed, so I’d like to underscore it: many people today want to blame others for the consequences of their choices, but only when they don’t like them.

So, in this case, for some reason, the customer bought the app but doesn’t like it. I’m not sure why. I love it. But, to each his own. Regardless, even though he can easily get a refund from the Apple App Store, he chose to blast the developer and the app on Twitter. Instead of owning that he bought something that he doesn’t like, or going on to the developer’s (very active) support site to get help, he just slammed it on social media.

When I read it, I just thought, “Here’s a guy who isn’t willing to accept the consequences of his choices and expects others to agree that they are wrong and then fix them when he doesn’t like it.”

This isn’t healthy. It hurts the one who is using it to feel better. It represents an abdication that cannot actually be made: your life is your life. Your choices are your choices.

“I am tomorrow, or some future day, what I establish today. I am today what I established yesterday or some previous day.” –James Joyce (1882-1941)

When we try to blame our consequences (regardless of how harsh or challenging) on someone or something else, we give up our power. We convince ourselves that we cannot control the outcomes of our lives. Instead, we try to stay risk-free and “undo” the consequences that turn out different than we expect or want.

But, it never works. And therein lies the rub.

We know. Under it all, we know what we did, we know what we deserve as consequences, and over time it eats away at our character. Our integrity is stained by the cheating. Even if no one else sees it, we know. And we die a little each time.

Take back your power. Own your choices and their consequences. Succeed on your own merit.

Customer Success

When you apply this reality to customer success, you begin to see a few things. One of them is that the old adage “The customer is always right” is clearly false. This is the first principle I discuss in my customer relationship success program. While the customer isn’t always right, it’s critically important to show respect and humility. This is a first step towards success as a business, especially in the age of the Internet.

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The Morality of Blocking Ads

Whether sitting at my kitchen table last week checking the latest news or viewing my Twitter or Facebook feeds on the run, the conflict over iOS 9’s new ad blocking capability has created as much controversy as the Pope’s message being in conflict with both the political right and the political left.

Why?

I’ve read a number of useful insights into the ranging from Seth Godin’s long-term perspective on caring for customers first to Dennis Seller’s report of its impact on publishers and the advertising perspective of Randall Rothenberg.

However, as an analyst with a focus on root causes and the purpose of business, it’s clear the none of these actually go far enough to get to the bottom of the real issue: value.

Fundamentally, advertising is a communication medium from the provider of a product or service to the prospective consumer of that product or service. So, for example, Apple wants to sell you a new iPhone, so it creates an advertisement to communicate to you so you will purchase it. The communication may take virtually any form, from the promise of a better life to the description of various iPhone features, but its goal is always to get you to buy.

So, how do they get that message to you?

They use middlemen who have your attention for other reasons. Perhaps a medium you use to enjoy entertainment, like TV, or maybe a blog you read for education. Since those media have your attention, they sell it to advertisers to support their production of more content. There are other middlemen, of course, including those who create and produce the ads, those who do the work necessary to deliver the ads on whatever media, and so on, but ultimately, that’s the picture: a producer buying access to consumers to convince them to buy.

The problem is, the exchange happens between all the other players without the permission of the consumers. Your permission is assumed. It’s the price you pay for consuming the content, and the various providers believe that you know this and are conscious of the arrangements. Ironically, the prevalence of the advertising means that consumers learn to tune it out and avoid it. We buy a DVR that allows them to skip over commercials, we change the radio station when a commercial comes on, and, yes, we install and use ad blockers for our web browsers on iOS.

There are times we don’t, however. The Super Bowl, for example, has become a showcase for advertising. Super Bowl ads are ranked and discussed for weeks both leading up to the event and following it. They have created massive demand for brands, and web sites have crumbled under the crush of interest they generate.

But, these times are rare. We become jaded. It gets harder and harder to get our attention. So, the ads get more and more intrusive. Remember those animate GIF ads? How do you like hover ads (the ones that block the page so you have to look at them before you can read whatever you came to read)? More and more obtrusive, more and more expensive to experience.

So, we get ad blockers.

Now, some advertisers and the ad networks are working on options to get around blockers and the consumer choice they represent. What does that say about the entitlement they feel towards the time and attention of those they target with the ads? Exactly.

What about those who earn their livings by the ad revenue they receive and who are damaged by the loss of your attention?

The solution is simple, but hard: it takes a shift in paradigm, but the time has come. Change the way you think about ads, whether you buy them, create them, deliver them, host them, or consume them! Create value, and find ways to effectively “pay” consumer for their attention. If you have something to share with me that matters to me, I’ll pay attention. If what you want to show me is something that has no value for me (like the mortgage ads I see any time my ad blocker is off!), it’s a waste for both of us. Figure out a way to stop doing it!

Advertisers complain about the poor return on their online advertising investment. Here is why they have the issue: the ads are ugly, inconsiderate, obtrusive, and irrelevant. In a world where time is the most value commodity most people have, this is insulting. Stop doing it!

I understand that this means more work than has traditionally been done in advertising, except by the most advanced and creative teams. It’s time to follow their lead.

To publishers who make their living from advertising: Don’t blame Apple or those building the best-selling apps. You brought this on yourself.

For those who are primarily consumers, I have a challenge for you, too: don’t expect great content to be free. It costs time, energy, talent, and effort to produce, and just because you can get it for free doesn’t mean you should. Artists deserve compensation for their work, whether it’s a news report, a painting, or a song. Compensate them for the benefit you get. It’s the right thing to do, and it feels good to do it!

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I Was Wrong About the iPhone 6

Last Wednesday, I was sitting in an AT&T store with my amazing daughter Rachel. She was finally replacing her iPhone 4S with a used iPhone 6.

Mine.

So, I swapped my iPhone 6 for my son’s old iPhone 5 as we did a family round-robin of phones in anticipation of the iPhone 6S release this Friday and the new iPhone Upgrade Program.

Last September, before I had my iPhone 6, I tweeted that I thought both the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus might be too big for me. When I got the iPhone 6, I was frustrated by the pockets it wouldn’t fit and how conspicuous my phone had become. I looked forward to what I hoped would be a return to the smaller form factor by Apple in a future update.

Not any more.

When I pull the iPhone 5 out of my pocket, I realize that I miss the additional size of the iPhone 6. I miss the extra text, the extra row of icons, and even the way it feels in my hand. I’ve adjusted. I seldom one-hand the phone like I used to do with my iPhone 5S, but when I need to, the new swiping keyboards (like Swype, my favorite for the iPhone and SwiftKey, my favorite for my iPad) make it possible.

In short, the new size works for me. I still think the Plus is too big for me; I like to be able to put my phone in a pocket, and although the 6/6S is large in a pocket, it’s still possible. The 6 Plus isn’t (for me).

What’s your experience?

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The Age of Deception

Have you noticed that trust is disappearing?

As I sat on my back porch watching Una the yellow lab guide dog puppy and Daisy, our Brittany frolic in an effort to corner one of the squirrels, it struck me how far we’ve fallen as a society. There was a time when honesty was an unimpeachable virtue to be celebrated and developed. Today, it seems, there is far more interest in dishonesty that leaves the listener placated and believing what makes them most comfortable.

Truth seems unwelcome.

“I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

One of the reasons I find science so comforting has historically been my belief in its objectivity:

  1. make an educated guess (hypothesis),
  2. design an experiment to test the guess,
  3. verify the guess, disprove it, or alter it and retry.

Unfortunately, as has become more and more obvious to me recently, this idealistic perspective of science is rarely reflected in reality. Instead, the process goes more like this:

  1. make a claim of something desired to be true
  2. design an experiment to prove its truth to others
  3. modify, falsify, ignore, or destroy data that doesn’t support the claim

This happens across the board and for people as diverse as religious leaders and hardened earth scientists. The interest in truth seems to be effectively nonexistent, while the drive to claim and prove has expanded exponentially.

“There are three types of lies — lies, damn lies, and statistics.” — Benjamin Disraeli

This leads the honest to answer two foundational questions:

  1. Does it matter to me whether or not I am truthful? And
  2. How will I behave in the face of this deception?

As a person long committed to truth, honesty, and integrity — perhaps partially the result of a youth often spent deceiving others in an effort to improve my standing with them — I had to decide how I would respond. It took an adjustment to my traditional approach to relationships, which had been, “Trust until evidence of deceit is clear.” Given recent experiences, living that way is no longer supportable. Now, it’s closer to Ronald Reagan’s famous line, “Trust, but verify.” Which is to say, “Recognize that others will try to deceive for their own benefit.”

I am mourning the passing of my naive outlook.

“Those who have failed to work toward the truth have missed the purpose of living” — Buddha

“You shall not speak falsely to others” — the 9th Commandment

“And, do not cloak (and confuse) the truth with falsehood. Do not suppress the truth knowingly.” — Quran, 2:42

The second decision is about my own words and behavior: do I want to compromise my strict commitment to honesty and integrity in the face of overwhelming evidence that it is often not the path to the outcome I might want.

“Clinton lied. A man might forget where he parks or where he lives, but he never forgets oral sex, no matter how bad it is.” — Barbara Bush

For this decision, I was aided by Earl Nightingale as I listened once again to his wonderful album, “Lead the Field”:

“It’s possible to get rich without enriching others, but for most of us, it’s not the way we want to go. It’s nothing to take pride in. Why bother when there are so many positive, excellent, and productive ways to serve others?” — Earl Nightingale

Yes. It’s worth it to me. I want to be honest. I want to know I have done my best and done so with good intentions, honestly, and with complete integrity.

“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.” — Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

What about you? How will you speak and behave? How will you respond to those who lie, cheat, and steal to get what they want, even if their intentions might be good?

My encouragement to you is to take on the discipline of doing what you say, of honestly seeking truth, and of altering your perspective to match that truth to the very best of your ability.

“If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” — Adolf Hitler

Be a person of character. Sleep is so much sweeter when we are!

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App of the Week: TripIt

This week, we take a bit of a shift away from productivity apps primarily on devices and move to a system for travel that has changed my experience. As a frequent traveler (I’ve averaged more than 100,000 miles of air travel each year for the past decade), every trip has a combination of information that is critical to make the travel aspect of the trip as uneventful as possible. TripIt has changed my experience by remembering all of the details, keeping them in one place, and placing them into my systems in ways that are very helpful.

TripIt is a combination of a web site and an app that collect itinerary information, transform it into trips, and then allow for distribution to other systems like calendars. As a result, it has become the centerpiece of my travel logistics and relieved me of the burden of tracking the details.

How?

Well, first, TripIt captures all of my itineraries. It does this when I send them to plans@tripit.com or by checking my Google email account for me and finding itineraries there. It processes plane, train, automobile (rental), hotel, and other reservations, parsing the details out of the itineraries and building out “Trips” that contain the overlapping information. For example, for me a typical trip includes a round trip on an airplane, a rental car, and a hotel for the week. All of these are bundled into a “Trip” in the TripIt app, and I can view each item independently or as a group. This provides me very fast access to the “next” element of my trip (picking up the rental car or getting the hotel location, for example).

I also have TripIt add this information to a calendar, and I subscribe to that calendar within my calendar apps. This means that I know precisely how long a flight is scheduled to last, and it gets blocked for me without me having to do anything else.

As a result, I haven’t lost a rental car confirmation number, forgotten which of the hotels with similar names I’ve booked, or been too surprised by how long a flight lasts.

What do you think of TripIt?

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App of the Week: Glympse

So far, App of the Week has been about various productivity apps that keep enable us to use all of our devices to engage with our content and data anywhere. This week, though, I’m going to let you in on a cool little app that helps me with the burning question, “When will you be home?”: Glympse.

Glympse is one of those apps that I find very useful and cool. It’s a pretty simple app, with the simple idea that you may want to share your location and estimated arrival time with others. When you do, they can track your progress on a map in the app or on the Glympse web site. It’s as simple as that!

I like using it when I am meeting someone, when our schedules are tight, or when I just want them to know when to expect me with high accuracy.

Check it out and let me know what you think!

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App of the Week: Day One

It’s the end of the year. It’s the beginning of the year. It’s a time of peace and goodwill. It’s a time to look back. It’s a time to look forward.

I’m sitting in a hotel room along the beach in Hollywood, Florida. My plans for the day have changed, and I thought of you and the goals for the year. It occurred to me that you could gain much by writing down your thoughts more than you do, and so I thought of Day One, my primary journaling app.

Day One is a gorgeous journaling app made for the Mac and the iPhone and iPad (via a universal app). It’s a great way to begin to collect your thoughts and experiences, with deep functions to grow as you find yourself writing more and collecting more of your life into it. Much of what you might want to remember is automatically recorded by Day One, such as the location of the post, the weather when you posted, and date and time. As a result, you can view the timeline of your entries or a map, and review what you were thinking, what you experienced, where and when.

This combination can create many insights as you review your year, look forward to the next, set your goals, and consider what’s possible.

I also like that I can write in Drafts and then use an action to enter those thoughts into Day One. I’m not always sure when I start writing in Drafts what I will want to do with the thought once it’s more complete!

So, here’s my thought for you today: what would your life be if you began to write more, record more, review more, and be more intentional about what’s next?

It’s just a thought. But, it has the power to change your future.

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App of the Week: OmniFocus

I’m sitting here in my office prepping this blog post on a snowy Colorado afternoon. As I looked down the list of apps I’ve created for this series, I got to thinking about the one that would really help as we turn the corner to a new year. That one is OmniFocus, available separately for iPhone, iPad, and Mac.

Before I get into the details of the app, understand that I buy into the Getting Things Done (GTD) philosophy of productivity:

  1. Capture: Get everything out of your head and into a trusted system,
  2. Clarify: Process what it means,
  3. Organize: Put it where it belongs and where you’ll see it when you can do it,
  4. Reflect: Review frequently, and
  5. Engage: Do what there is to do.

This set of simple steps is very difficult to actually do consistently. There is so much demand on our time these days, with the ubiquitous Internet, always-on communications, and ever-faster pace of innovation and work. Yet, it is the only way I have discovered to know what is “on my list,” what is “off my list,” what is “waiting for something or someone outside my direct control,” and so on. It doesn’t mean you’ll get everything done. It does mean that you’ll get more of the most important things done.

So, what about OmniFocus?

While there are a number of “to do list” apps, some of which are less costly (including some which are free), OmniFocus is the one I’ve chosen to use consistently because it allows me to best set up my life in alignment with GTD.

While OmniGroup describes OmniFocus on their web site, I approach it differently. Specifically, I look at how it enables each of the steps of GTD:

  1. The OmniFocus Inbox is the capture point. Whenever I come up with a new idea or an item appears that I need to address, I put it into the Inbox. That’s my capture spot. I even put emails into the Inbox if they represent an action I need to take. This means there is only one place for my actions. OmniFocus does a good job of providing links back to the mail items, so I can file them in my Archive at the time I capture them.
  2. I review the Inbox during breaks in my day, and ask the GTD questions about each item. Based on what the item is, I take the appropriate action, whether addressing it right then, putting it as an action step into a project, or otherwise filing it. These are the Clarify and Organize steps.
  3. I perform a Weekly Review, checking all of the “still to do” items in OmniFocus and adjusting them as appropriate.
  4. I use Contexts (the various locations, tools, and energy levels of my life) to look at only those things that I can do at a particular time. For example, when I’m on a plane, I don’t usually purchase Internet access. So, if a task requires Internet access, there is no need for me to see it during a flight. Thus, my “In-flight” context doesn’t include those items.

Using OmniFocus I am able to maintain my sanity. I capture items before I forget them, I have one place where I look for actions to do, and I keep the available actions as clean as possible.

How do you get things done?

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